Homily for the 8 o’clock Mass, Sunday Easter 6A, 21 May 2017, on John 14:15-21

Today’s Gospel follows on from last week’s. Last Sunday we heard Jesus at the Last Supper call himself the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6). And he said that whoever sees me, sees the Father (14:9). Now we hear more profound words of Jesus, in another brief extract from the long final discourse, according to St. John. What Jesus says here applies to all Christians, yet also it points to the highest mysticism of the Saints. The words of Jesus are so simple, so familiar; yet also they plumb the deepest theology. Through them we see into the Trinitarian Life of God, and also into the relationship of union he wants to have with us.

If you love me, says Jesus, you will keep my commandments (14:15). Then later he says the same thing, only the other way about. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love (15:10). Or as at the end of our passage today: Whoever receives my commandments and keeps them will be the one who loves me (14:21). We find this apparently circular way of thinking and expression constantly recurring. You in me and I in you (14:20) says Jesus. Or again: I in the Father and the Father in me (14:10). Round and round circles the eagle, St. John, and higher and higher he soars, and with him we gaze into the mysteries of God, and of our salvation in Christ, and we find everything coherent, everything simple, yet also everything ever more wonderful, ever more astonishing: holy and divine; life-giving, and life-transforming.

In St. John’s Gospel, the commandments of Jesus are not multiple, but one. Love one another, as I have loved you he says (13:34). We don’t have the capacity to fulfil this commandment on our own, because we are not Jesus, not divine Persons, not perfectly united with God our Father. But that will change when Jesus dies on the Cross to take away our sins, and when he sends us the Holy Spirit. As St. John depicts it, the Holy Spirit flows from the pierced side of Jesus on the Cross, as well as from the bosom of God the Father. He comes to divinise us, to make us share the Sonship of Jesus; to give us his own life, his own love, his own relationship with the Father and the Son.

The word Jesus uses for the Spirit here is Paraclete. St. John uses the word also about Jesus himself. We have an Advocate, or Paraclete, with the Father, he says in his first letter, Jesus Christ the righteous (I Jn 2:1). In the final Discourse at the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit as our Paraclete five times (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7-11, 12-15). As a noun the word is personal, and masculine. So the Holy Spirit is clearly a Divine Person, not just a notional abstraction. Our translation as “Advocate” well evokes a primary meaning of the term, which is a legal defender in a law court. Some commentators like to portray the whole of St. John’s Gospel as one great trial scene. Certainly we find trial language used throughout the Gospel. It would seem that the reader is invited to be the Judge about Jesus: to decide whether or not what he says is true, and comes from God. But more deeply, the reader himself is the one in the dock, and Jesus is the Judge. Very soon after these words are spoken, Jesus himself will go on his trial before Pilate, with no Advocate at all to defend him, except the Truth.

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls the Paraclete precisely the Spirit of Truth (14:16). That is, above all, he is the one who bears witness to the Truth of Jesus, and the Truth of God; the Truth of God’s love that comes to us in Jesus. It’s by the Spirit that we recognise Jesus as truly the one he claims to be. It’s also by the Spirit that we are able to keep his commandments, to love as he loves, and so to be worthy to be with him in the bosom of his Father in heaven.

It’s a remarkable thought that when we stand before the heavenly court for judgement, with all our sins before us, we will find our Advocate is the very one who sits as our Judge. He is on our side; he defends us. He doesn’t merely pretend our sins aren’t there, or simply excuse us, or let us off. Much better than that: by pouring himself into us; by dwelling in us, and with us, he gives us his own love, which drives all our sins out. It’s like a fracking process: one thing drives out another. There can be no more room for non-love when the heart is filled with divine love. Pride, lust, envy, sloth, anger, gluttony, avarice: they cannot stand in the presence of divine love.

So St. John of the Cross famously said: “In the evening of life you will be judged on love.”

Do you love me? Jesus asks Peter at the end of the Gospel. Then feed my sheep. Be to your fellow Christians what I have been to you. Love them, even to the end. Keep my commandments; keep my word. That is: do my will in all things. Live in the Spirit; walk according to the Spirit. Love God and love your neighbour. Love me. Be converted to me, ever more and more. Become conformed to me, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Be transformed in me.

Is this difficult? No, says St. John. His commandments are not burdensome, because every child of God overcomes the world (I Jn 5:3). So St. Augustine said: Dilige et quod vis fac. Love and do what you will. This is the new law of the Gospel. Let love be the wellspring all your thoughts and decisions and actions. Not just any old love, of course, but the love of Christ and of the Spirit; the love that holds the Trinity together; the love that God is. 

I shall not leave you orphans (14:18), says Jesus. I shall come back to you. He will come back when he rises from the dead and manifests himself to the disciples. Much more, he will come back when he dwells in them, never more to be separated from them. And the pledge of this mystical indwelling is the Sacrament of Love, the Holy Eucharist. Eat my flesh, says Jesus, drink my blood. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me, and I in him.